Women’s Day: 5 Verses to Change the World

Haz clic aquí para leer esto en español.  I woke up this morning and checked the news and was surprised to discover that today is International Women's Day.  Apparently, unbeknownst to me, this celebration has been going on for nigh 100 years.  Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find this out.  I like women, after all.  I thought about writing a blog post--talking about all the ways that women have dignity, and all the ways that this dignity is offended (I thought of abuse, pornography, slavery, trafficking, rape, unequal treatment, etc.).  I even wrote a post, but managed to accidentally delete it.  However, it just so happens that yesterday I finished a half-semester course on Domestic Violence.  Now, someone looking over my shoulder as I write might think... so, you're saying: "International Women's Day = Domestic Violence."  Well, not quite.  In honor of all those who suffer from domestic violence, or violence of any kind (overwhelmingly, it is women and children who suffer from the violence of men)... I offer these 5 quotes from Scripture, which, properly understood, I think could change the world:


1. "Wives be submissive to your husbands."  Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Colossians 3, etc.  These words have been tragically used over and over again to literally submit women to their male partners.  But this is not the whole story.  St. Paul goes on to say, "Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church," and "love your wives as your own bodies.... for no one hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cares for it."  No Christian man could do violence to his wife or any woman, think to take away her dignity or impose his will without first realizing how Christ always and everywhere dealt with his own bride, the Church.  He offered himself up for her, he welcomed her in all her forms, and he was obedient to her (Luke 2:51).  Pius XI wrote in Casti Connubii, 27 (1930) that the submission of the wife to her husband cannot take away her liberty or dignity as a human person; nor must she obey every request (especially if against reason or her dignity); nor does it make her his property or to be treated as a child; nor does it mean that she is immature or ignorant... And one of the most beautiful lines from any encyclical: "For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love."


2. "Your desire shall be for your husband, but he shall rule over you."  Genesis 3:16.  This is part of the punishment that God doles out for Eve right before their expulsion from Eden.  It is commonly understood to mean that the man rightfully (by a God-given right, no less) is to have power over the woman.  Yet, I want to offer a different take.  One could just as easily conclude that men abuse and dominate women because of sin.  These words make me think of women who are in abusive relationships.  She loves her husband, she desired to be with him and continues to desire him, but he has turned against her... he rules over her as a tyrant because of sin.  Thus, her desire is thwarted by his oppression.


3. "God hates divorce," Malachi 2:13-16, and "What God has joined, let no man put asunder."  Judging from the words of Christ, it seems quite certain that God is not fond of divorce (Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:2-16).  The words of the prophet Malachi against divorce come in a larger context.  It is an explanation to the priests (men) why the Lord does not hear their prayers... especially because they have abandoned the wives of their youth--Israelite women--in order to marry foreign women.   A man could abandon his wife for practically any reason, leaving her destitute and vulnerable.  St. Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) that the Lord commands that a woman should not separate from her husband, and then he goes on to clarify: "But if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband."  In other words, God does not want separation of spouses either, but it is nevertheless considered acceptable within these limits.  When a man places his family in danger or fear for their lives, his wife's leaving is not only justifiable, it is often the best thing she can do to show her love for him, for her children, and for herself.


4. "Turn the other cheek." Matthew 5:38-42. Christ's words from the Sermon on the Mount have been enshrined as a catchphrase for Christian morality.  Yet, today they are most often used in one of two ways: 1) to actually mock the command, or 2) to encourage those who are oppressed or abused to accept the abuse and submit.  But this cannot be Christ's meaning when he says "Do not resist evil," and "to the one who strikes you, offer the other cheek."  If it were, then how could he have defended a woman caught in adultery, keeping her from being stoned to death by a pack of ruthless men (John 8)?  Would he not have encouraged her instead to "not resist the evil" of being stoned to death and to accept their violence... to literally turn the other cheek for the next rock to strike?  No!  Of course not.  Rather, Christ resisted their evil, but not with evil.  Not with violence.  Christ's example is that of non-violent and patient resistance... in the presence of the High Priest, a guard struck him and he resisted with these words (John 18:22-23): "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?"  Again, he resists evil and violence, not with violence or any kind of retaliation... but with truth. 


5. "Take up your cross."  Matthew 16:24.  These words too can be abused by the bystanders of violence and oppression.  An abused woman who seeks help can easily and often be told that it is her cross to bear.  That God wills that she suffer the scars and sins of her husband's wrath.  She is effectively turned away, silenced, and forced to return.  Yet, in a way, these words are true nonetheless.  But they must be radically reinterpreted.  It is her cross to bear, it is anyone's cross to bear the sins of her oppressor.  But this does not mean that she submit, it does not mean that there is nothing to change and no reason to bother... that there is only to go on suffering.  By no means!  But victims and survivors of violence must, in the final analysis, come to terms with the suffering that has been inflicted on them.  While certainly struggling against the injustice committed against them and so many others, they must find peace in their own wounded bodies and souls.  They must accept the evil of the past, and work to change the future.  This is the cross they bear: the good memories seared away by fear and pain, the the scars, the tears, and all the damage that has been done to them.  The cross is not a tool of subjugation for Jesus Christ, nor should it be so for his followers.  Instead, the cross is a tool of salvation, of liberation.  The way of the cross is the way to freedom.  To take up one's cross is to accept the challenge of suffering.  To take up the cross is precisely to accept the challenge of struggle against the evils of sickness, of death, of violence, or of abuse.